I'm here in Manhattan, awaiting my mini-retreat at Omega Institute this weekend. Until then, I have a rare opportunity to do something I rarely do anymore: take yoga classes from other people.
As an instructor, you'd think it would be easier to make it to the studio, but I find that life (and teaching at the same time as many of your peers) easily gets in the way. Not to complain, but after teaching yoga for two hours, or four, or six, the last thing I want to do is find a class I might like, and then start the process over again.
Sure, I have a home practice. But how sweet it is to have a few days I can dedicate to sitting on the mat, making inner space, and letting someone else teach me. After all, I know what I know. These days, I'm more interested in finding out what I don't know.
I was able to take two classes this weekend at the same studio but different instructors. The difference between them was immense. The first teacher led us through the postures with no mention of living from center philosophy, intention-setting reminders, or the like. I got a great workout and was happy for it.
The second teacher, Mercedes Rodriguez-Bermejo, began with a sitting reflection and teaching on transformation, pointing out the changing tree just outside our city window. She encouraged us to search within our poses for what we wanted to shift or let go of. We sang rich Oms and chanted along with her gorgeous voice. And yes, we did Tree Pose (Vrksasana).
Then she moved us through the asanas in a living dance, returning to the theme of transforming yourself ("not into someone else, or something better or worse; just different, according to your intention") with a Temple Pose where we took Venus Mudra overhead, then swept forward with a "Ha!" and low-belly activation that truly made me feel that I was releasing something deep. By the end of class, I felt like I'd been on a real journey.
The poses were not that different between the two instructors, and I would never say that one class was good and the other wasn't. But it was marvelous to be able to surrender into a teaching that spoke to me and awoke my whole being.
When I have a teacher who is offering something from Source, I feel I've come into the presence of a true Sadhu, or spiritual person. Though I believe every one of us is inherently spiritual, some people actively live in devotion, consistently committing to do the uncomfortable, rewarding work of finding their innermost nature and therefore, their deepest truth.
You can tell by how they express themselves, on or off the mat, that they have found the inner knowledge of the oneness of all beings and the capacity we all hold to be, quite literally, in love with our lives. When I step into class with a teacher like that, it inspires me, infuses me, and lets me slip more easily into my own core relationship.
Life goes fast, and it's often compelling to make the easy choice ("Oh, I'll just take the class around the corner") rather than taking time to find something that might really excite you and give you something new. I was in a position to make that choice myself just the other night. In the middle of my Next Top Model marathon, I had the urge to learn something. So, I switched to the Science Channel. Now, is knowing about piranhas, Amazonian tribal culture, and why the Japanese coastline was recently overrun with gigantic jellyfish better than knowing who won the CoverGirl contract? Who knows? Both are enjoyable at different times. But I crave Science Channel to expand my knowledge of the world in a deeper way. I also had a lot more epiphanies about spiritual things while watching it, which I take as a sign that a universal teaching is underway.
Understanding what's true for you each moment (and it will change!) will help you more effectively create the inner and outer environments that support you and those around you. What you project through your attitude, intention, and attention to details makes a huge difference in how harmonious your relationships are. The central question becomes: Are you living as a holistically integrated Sadhu or are you living from just one part of yourself, such as your body, mind, fear, or ego? The yogi will take steps to reunite the mind, body, and spirit regularly so that she maintains equilibrium.
So, the next time you're choosing a class, a teacher, a relationship, a career move, what thoughts you're going to believe, what foods you're going to bring home from the grocery store, or even, yes, what TV show to watch, take a moment to consider what will increase your health, vitality, and innermost empowerment. Soon enough, when you look around, you'll realize that every minute of your day is an opportunity to do this.
Core Pose: Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
To bring yourself into different states in a situation that appears similar, try this experiment. Let's do the same pose in two ways:
Pose 1: Come to stand anywhere on your mat, feet separated two-fists-distance apart. Lengthen your tailbone and draw your lower belly gently up toward your sternum. Widen your shoulders and reach the crown of your head higher. Bring your palms together at the chest, and breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Remain here for 1 minute.
Pose 2: Come into the posture using the same alignment points from above. Close your eyes, and envision a bright, warm sun in the center of your belly. As you inhale, let the breath drop down slowly to stoke this heat even more. It will spread and warm your hip joints, sacrum, and pelvic floor, widening and softening any stuck, stuffed, or old energy found there.
On your exhalation, activate the bowl of muscles inside your pelvis as you hug around the sun and lift it up the spine. This action will bring light and heat from the root through the belly, solar plexus, heart, throat, and head, clearing your central channel, or shushumna, of any resistances to your vitality and inherent energy flow.
These main areas of resistance to your prana, or life force, moving freely, are called granthis, and are found in the form of tension in the belly, chest, and head. When we bring awareness to the inner life of our poses, we not only get a strong and supple outer body, we begin to unravel the granthis and experience an ever-greater movement and stability in the mind, heart and spirit within the body.
Breathe here for 1 minute or more as you experience this pose on all levels at once.